MRDF currently owns two operational undersea habitats, the MarineLab Undersea Laboratory and Jules' Undersea Lodge. Jules' is leased to Key Largo Undersea Park, which operates it as an underwater hotel and place where recreational divers can receive specialized instruction in underwater living. The MarineLab Undersea Laboratory is used with MarineLab education programs, small research programs and as a remote site for distance learning programs using an ROV. Both habitats are located in the lagoon at our Key Largo facility.
The Foundation has a long history working with underwater habitats. Founder Ian Koblick was a alternate Aquanaut on Tektite I and Program Manager on Tektite II, which were government sponsored underwater habitat projects held in St John's, US Virgin Islands. (Click here to see a Youtube trailer on the Tektite program).
Puerto Rico Inter National Undersea Laboratory (PRINUL)
From 1971 to 1976, MRDF developed, built and managed the government-sponsored Puerto Rico International Undersea Laboratory (PRINUL) program. This extensive research program was designed to demonstrate the value of using undersea habitats to inventory marine resources. Using the island of Puerto Rico as a mini-continent, the project was meant to be a model for a similar program for North America. Located on a 30-acre site, the Foundation operated the most advanced undersea laboratory in the world, the La Chalupa habitat. Designed and managed by Ian Koblick, this habitat program achieved major accomplishments in the development of ocean research and saturation diving technology. Several publications resulted from the extensive research conducted during this project.
MarineLab Undersea Laboratory
In 1984, MRDF launched the world's first underwater classroom, the MarineLab Undersea Laboratory, at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, Florida. Under the name "MarineLab," marine education programs were established, giving students and teachers an opportunity to live, work, and study the ocean from an undersea habitat. The habitat was moved from its location at Pennekamp to the newly acquired facility in Key Largo, only a few hundred yards away.
In 1993 and 1994, NASA’s OCEAN Project, under the direction of Dennis Chamberland, conducted plant growth experiments in one of MRDF’s undersea habitats to learn more about the challenges of maintaining a controlled ecological life support system, in an alien environment. The scope of the OCEAN Project was expanded in 1995 to capitalize on the educational value of using an undersea habitat to demonstrate the similarities between living in outer space and within the sea.
NASA had previously partnered with MRDF in 1992, on the "La Chalupa-30" mission, which simulated the isolation conditions of a long term space mission by placing aquanauts in an undersea habitat for 30 days. Overlapping this cooperative program was a privately funded endeavor, sponsored by MRDF, called Project Atlantis. The program raised public awareness about the possibilities of living and working in the sea and resulted in the establishment of a world record, which is still unbroken, for living in an undersea habitat (69 days).
MRDF developed an undersea diving program with the Oceanographic Ministry of the former Soviet Union in 1992. Two Soviet scientists/aquanauts from the P.P. Shirsove Institute of Oceanology of the Soviet Academy of Sciences participated in a NOAA-funded, two week saturation dive study of vital lung capacity in MRDF’s MarineLab Undersea Laboratory. The project marked the first time that Russian scientists had lived in a US undersea habitat.
These Soviet scientists were part of a larger series of NOAA funded programs studying diver physiology under a variety of hyperbaric environments. From 1988 to 1990, researchers used Doppler Ultrasound technology to detect small nitrogen bubbles in the blood of divers who had spent 12, 24, and 48 hours at depths of 12 to 24 feet in the MarineLab Undersea Laboratory. Several papers and presentations resulted from this study, which provided new information on the no-decompression limit for divers.
The MarineLab Undersea Laboratory is currently the longest-continually running underwater habitat in the world. Operations Director Chris Olstad has been with the habitat since its submersing, and has a wealth of experience in underwater habitat operations and technology. The MarineLab program expanded to include snorkeling field trips to the surrounding marine communities, and both the MarineLab Undersea Laboratory and the MarineLab education programs are currently thriving and expanding.
Jules' Undersea Lodge
In 1986, MRDF oversaw the refurbishment and installation of Jules’ Undersea Lodge, the former La Chalupa habitat, in the lagoon at Key Largo Undersea Park. Many celebrities and notables have stayed overnight in what is still the world’s only underwater hotel. In 1995, the actual structure was donated to MRDF, which leased it back to Key Largo Undersea Park to operate.